The reaction came following a speech last week by the Commissioner for justice and fundamental rights Viviane Reding about online privacy.
Reding indicated firmly that she would ask all websites, including social networking sites like Facebook, to seek explicit consent from their European users before preserving their IP addresses.
Speaking last week (28 November) to a conference on data protection staged by the US Chamber of Commerce, Reding described in detail the type of reforms that she would seek in an overhaul of the 1995 Data Protection Directive which she will unveil early next year.
Fragmented approach costs EU €2.3 billion each year
The commissioner said that the reforms would seek to unify the data protection regimes across the EU as currently each member state applies varying rules to data protection. A fragmented approach was costing the EU €2.3 billion each year in lost business, she claimed.
“Individuals should be well informed about privacy policies and their consent needs to be specific and given explicitly,” Reding told the meeting.
Industry broadly welcomes the attempt to create a unified data protection regime, but is nervous about the proposal to seek such explicit consent from Internet users.
In practice this might entail 'consent boxes' being used every time an IP address of individual users was transferred to a web site offering goods and services, which industry believes could create on-line jams and deter consumers from using web sites.
Reding set to follow Parliament’s lead
The Commission has come under pressure from the European Parliament to propose strict consent criteria from Internet users. In July, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest in Parliament, issued a report which said: “The information which social networks provide to users about purposes and different ways in which personal data is processed must be easily accessible, visible and understandable for the user.”
“Most of our members are very, very concerned about this over-expansion of a balanced regime,” Kimon Zorbas, the vice presdinet of IAB Europe, the largest the trade association of the European digital and interactive marketing industry, told EurActiv.
He said that such an "explicit consent" clause would have a freezing effect on the European digital market.